Last weekend the season of autumn officially began. For the past week I watched the hillsides begin to color. It is not full color by any means, but there is certainly more than a hint of color.
When we begin the fall season it is called the autumnal equinox. According to Webster's dictionary, "The equinox is when the sun crosses the equator making day and night of equal length in all parts of the earth."
See, if you have noticed the shrinking of daylight hours you are not wrong. When I get up at 6 a.m. it is light, but the sun is not yet up. In the evening it is dark before 7 p.m. I hate to think of there being less daylight because I really like the daylight hours. There is so much that you can get done.
Fall has to be one of the prettiest seasons of the year. While I appreciate its beauty, it spells the doom to gardens and plants. As the plants die back, the produce must be picked.
I loved to can. We canned not only what we got from the garden, we bought other produce from nearby farmers to completely stock the basement with food. I always enjoyed just standing back to admire the beauty that was revealed by the shelves of canned goods. Home canned fruits and vegetables are really pretty.
My favorite thing to can was pickles. The whole house smelled of vinegar and spice. I made all kinds of pickles. The family liked them all. I made hearty dill pickles as well as several varieties of sweet ones. I especially liked the bread and butter pickles, but watermelon rind pickles were good, too.
My least favorite thing to can was pears. I loved home canned pears, but they were so messy and took so much time. If we picked a bushel of pears on the weekend it might take a whole week or more to get them into jars. Pears have to be ripe to be good and they only ripen a few at a time.
Speaking of canning I had a mishap this week that I will remember for a long time. I decided to process my maple syrup in quart jars to keep it fresh longer. I heated it on the stove and prepared the jars. Just as I was turning around with a hot jar, the liquid oozed over the top spilling onto the burners. The hot sticky liquid went everywhere. I grabbed for some towels to mop things up before the syrup started to burn onto the surface of the stove. A wash of clothes later and a few washings of the floor and I could still feel a tacky surface underfoot. I did not lose much syrup, but it certainly made a mess.
That immediately sent my mind back to the days when I canned honey in the trailer. I had just put some honey into a jar when my toddler climbed up and promptly knocked it over. The floor in the kitchen was tacky for a long time because it had so many crevices. I was just thankful that no one got hurt.
One year there was a shortage of sugar. When you went to the supermarket you might not find any at all. Thankfully, we had our own honey at the time. That time I canned all of my pears, peaches, plums, and applesauce with honey. They tasted a little different, but they were very good. It certainly made it more economical because you only use half as much honey as you do sugar to make your syrups.
There was always something. Sometimes you could not find cider vinegar when it was time to can. Of course, everyone who was canning needed it at the same time around here so the demand outstripped the supply. I learned to purchase my gallon of cider vinegar early in the season so as to be prepared.
Another year there was a shortage of canning lids. I am not really sure what happened that year, but it made things very difficult. In the canning process there are some things you can just not do without and lids is one of them. I remember that I cut the pieces of fruit that year to get more pieces in each jar to conserve my lids.
I really miss our grove of plum trees. Those plums were good fresh, canned, and frozen. We had the old-fashioned prune plums. When you canned them you put them in heavy syrup. They were a beautiful shade of purple when you were done with them. When you put them in the freezer they tasted more like prunes when you cooked them up. The year of the lid shortage I planted the pits in the bed beside the house. The following spring a bunch of small trees sprouted up. I dug them up and took them to school. The children planted them to take home to their dads for Father's Day.
My zinnias I almost lost them during the drought are in full bloom. That is one of my favorite fall flowers. They are so colorful and last such a long time. My water trough is filled with marigolds they nearly succumbed as well. My begonias remind me of my great grandmother. They were her favorite plant. She always had begonias growing at her house.
You certainly cannot forget the wild flowers that are growing in abundance. The asters range from white to a dark purple. The golden rod is a gorgeous shade of yellow. As you drive along the highways and byway you cannot help but be impressed by the beauty of this season that we call fall.
Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell, PA. Contact at firstname.lastname@example.org